Jeff Probst caused a bit of a stir last year when he made comments regarding women returning players and why we only ever see the men coming back. One person who certainly wasn’t happy at these comments was one of our original Ozlets Lancey Morris, who discusses just why women returning players are just as worthy coming back as their male counterparts.
Some time ago Jeff Probst was asked why all of the players to return outside ‘all-stars’ seasons are men, and why the women are being so underrepresented. He answered:
There just aren’t as many colorful women characters in Survivor history, and we’ve used up the ones we can…for whatever reason we’re loaded with interesting guys (Dalton Ross, Inside T.V. 2012)
I don’t believe that Probst is sexist, but I do think that he has seriously underestimated the array of entertaining and interesting female contestants, not to mention his assessment of the sometimes questionable choice of male returning contestants.
First, allow me to remind you who these colourful [sic] players are: Rob Mariano, Russell Hantz, Benjamin Wade (though if you meet him be sure to call him ‘Coach’), Ozzy Lusth, Jonathan Penner, Michael Skupin and Russell Swan. Let’s start at the beginning.
Rob Mariano was hardly memorable in Marquesas though his game in All-Stars was his second chance and he used it well. While normally I’d feel we’d had our Mariano fix, it had been years since he’d played and Heroes vs Villains was a chance to see the past schemers we love to hate. Unfortunately, Rob wasn’t able to get anything done, and rather than let us cut our Survivor losses like we did with The Medallion of Power (WORST. TWIST. EVER.) , Probst forced us to endure another season with Rob; designed clearly to ensure he received a cheque in the end. In a great twist of fate however, they didn’t count on a Phillip Sheppard ruining his unanimous win. Overall, while Rob returning once was great casting, by the fourth time we were watching someone repeat their driving test AGAIN, and let’s face it: after that many goes, you’re bound to stop running into the sidewalk.
Both Russell and Boston Rob have been given numerous chances to play again.
In the same season we saw Russell Hantz return, and unlike Rob we had not had any kind of break and saw him almost three seasons consecutively. As a fan of Survivor: Samoa I was pleased to see him return as a villain, and he delivered on what he promised. However, when watching his three seasons in row, one cannot help but see the deterioration of the mind of Russell Hantz: going from strategic, albeit horribly obnoxious, to paranoid and unfathomably arrogant. Russell Hantz deserves praise for being an idol magnet and being able to make comebacks when the numbers are against him, but bringing him back a third time made for average viewing. Because his game was so fresh, and because his strategy didn’t change, the tribe was rightfully cautious of having him around and removed him as soon as possible. Russell returning would only work for an entirely all-stars cast, and even then it would have to be a long way into the future to appeal to me. He had his run, he made his moves, let’s find a new, less predictable villain.
Survivor: South Pacific is one of the less popular seasons, and this is perhaps due to its lack of action and its expected outcome. As for Ozzy Lusth, after playing a strong game in Cook Islands and showing his softer and more gullible side in Micronesia, it really felt like watching someone insist they could tap dance faster, when the audience were already satisfied on how fast they were tapping before. Again, the Redemption Island twist reeked of the player dictating the game’s structure, to ensure an old favourite gets every chance possible to win (which we saw with Ozzy dominating the challenges).
Conversely, Coach’s game didn’t feel finished after Heroes vs Villains, and he proved he had learnt from his mistakes and was ready to play hard. The Coach we saw was much more strategic and much less self-indulgent, so seeing him through to the end was fairly enjoyable, and was a good choice for a returning player. That is not to say however, that there are no female players who could’ve been just as or more interesting to watch, but more on that later.
Ozzy and Coach were also given three chances to play Survivor
The most recent season; Survivor: Philippines was much more diverse, and like Coach, Jonathan Penner was someone whose journey was very much unfinished. Michael Skupin and Russell Swan had great histories and had only each played once prior, so their return was likewise anticipated. However, when I look back on the memorable characters of the season, Swan doesn’t make the list, Skupin only just scrapes in, and most of my remaining selections are the female contestants (namely, Denise, Abi-Maria and even the charm of Dawson). The returning male players have often been disappointing, have too often played multiple times, or don’t encourage the diversity a season with returning men and women would have.
Although I think many of the one-time only players would make the best returning cast members, let’s not forget about the fantastic female players who have, like Ozzy, Coach, Russell, Rob and Penner, returned once before. We only need glance at a cast photo of Fans vs Favorites to recall the female power alliance to know this is true, or look to our only two time winner in Sandra; not to mention the spice of the Sue Hawkes. Moreover, when comparing the returning females of Fans vs Favorites to the returning men, it becomes clear which gender proved the most interesting of that season.
Jeff Probst claims that the casting team have ‘used up’ the female players they can, but I beg to differ. Kimmi Kappenberg was a polarizing and funny contestant to watch in Suvivor: Australian Outback and how about the fiery attitude we heard from Helen Glover in Survivor: Thailand? Lillian Morris (Survivor: Pearl Islands), the awkward Scout Leader was so painful to watch – imagine what she’d bring to a season all these years later, or better yet, the wonderfully aggressive Twila Tanner? In the region of early boots, how about Flicka from Survivor: Cook Islands, or Lisi from Survivor: Fiji In terms of a second chance Survivor, how can anyone look past the likes of Tracy Huges-Wolf or Christine Markoski (Survivor: Fans vs Favorites; Survivor: South Pacific): two women who were ousted before they had a chance to make their big moves.
Would this be turned into a smile if we ever saw Lil return for a second chance?
Who could forget the jury question from Natalie Bolton (Fans vs Favorites) and the sass of Taj from Survivor: Tocantins. Give me Natalie White (as if you don’t want to see her play without Russell Hantz), Laura Morett or Betsy Bolan (all Survivor: Samoa) any day of the week. How about some of the older women from Survivor: Nicaragua like Jane Bright or Holly Hoffman, or even the infamous quitter NaOnka Mixon? What about Julie Wolf, one of the hardest working women next to Timber Tina (Survivor: Redemption Island; Survivor: Panama)? What about Denise Martin, or better yet, Shambo?! If Brandon Hantz can return I can’t help but wonder why previous female winners haven’t been considered like Vecepia or Dani.
Even if the above mentioned aren’t to the taste of Probst, after just the two most recent seasons, his mind must have changed. Kim and Denise are two of the best winners in my opinion, but their seasons also showed us personalities like Kat, Sabrina, Alicia Abi-Maria, Lisa and even the earlier boots like Monica Culpepper who would sure make better viewing that seeing Brandon Hantz again.
Some of my favourite contestants to play Survivor are male, but I strongly believe there are just as many engaging and thought-provoking female players that are simply not being asked. Let’s try something new: instead of casting the standard 5 ex beauty pageant contestants, cast more of the Kims and Shambos, and bring back less Mariano and more Stapley.
 I leave out Bobby Jon and Stephanie as their season was part of another era, and they aren’t part of the group to which Probst refers.
What do you think about the lack of returning female contestants to Survivor? Let us know below!